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Chicago's Oldest African-American Oriented Radio Station Marks 50th Anniversary

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It was 50 years ago this week that a legendary Chicago radio station took to the airwaves.

WVON is the oldest African-American oriented radio station in the city. CBS 2's Jim Williams takes a look back at 50 years of history.

For many Chicagoans, the singing of these call letters signaled they'd found the right spot on the radio.

Fifty years ago this week WVON changed radio throughout the country.

"It became the biggest radio station in the city. Everybody listened to it. It was a phenom," said Herb Kent.

Herb Kent was among a group of DJs they called the Good Guys.

WVON was so powerful they determined what soul records would be hits, coast to coast.

"Barry Gordy often tells this story: When he was doing his thing in Detroit with Motown. the first station he would send the record to was WVON in Chicago," said Melody Spann-Cooper.

WVON stood for Voice of the Negro. And what an enormous voice it's been. In the early days, they not only played hit songs it gave a microphone to the civl rights movement. When riots erupted after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the DJ pleaded for calm.

"Everybody listened to us and we were saying don't burn your own neighborhoods down. It doesn't make sense," said Kent.

Eventually, music listeners preferred FM stereo. WVON changed ownership and switched to a talk format. Today, it's led by Melody Spann-Cooper.

"It stayed true its mission and it was in calls letters -- the voice of the negro. it's always been voice of Black Chicago and Black America," said Spann-Cooper.

This Saturday night at the Chicago Theatre, WVON will celebrate its golden anniversary with a big gala featuring singer Toni Braxton and many others. President Obama, who knows that station very well, is set to record a video message.

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